As any reader of this column must know by now, I am skeptical of modern government vaccination programs and violently object to mandates. I marvel at the purported horrible epidemic of flu we are supposedly currently experiencing – an epidemic so bad that anyone not getting vaccinated is labelled some sort of bourgeois anti-social criminal. Wait … where are all the supposed desperately ill people?
But don’t get the idea I am opposed to all vaccination. I just do not believe that any public health crisis trumps an individual’s inherent right to self determination.
I have, however, been campaigning for years for one vaccine to be available to anyone wanting it. Ironically, while governments and medical “experts” force us to have vaccines of questionable merit, we are simultaneously prohibited from exercising our own decision to buy vaccines that we deem worthwhile on the free market.
The United States stopped vaccinating against smallpox in 1972, the last known wild case occurring in 1967. Smallpox is an unbelievably deadly disease. It is the most contagious disease known to mankind – spreading literally like smoke. In the last known outbreak in Europe, a man early in the throws of smallpox, against doctor’s advice, opened his hospital window. In the cold German night, his exhalations went out the window, up the wall of the hospital into an open window on another wing and killed several nurses. That’s contagious. Get the picture?
Smallpox has no treatment, and in some outbreaks the death rate for those infected was over 60 percent. Modern medicine brought the contagion under control by a process of “ring vaccination.” The CDC, WHO and other agencies positioned vaccine at hot spots all over the world. They had trained teams of medical personnel ready to go at a moment’s notice to fly to any outbreak and begin vaccinating people in a ring around the incident case until the outbreak stopped.
While it is true that smallpox has been eradicated in the wild, it is not gone. As smallpox came under some control, samples from the disease were given to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta and to Biopreparat/Vector in the Soviet Union. Just as Oppenheimer thought it would be a more stable world if both sides had nuclear bombs, the World Health Organization thought it was only fair that both the democratic U.S. and the totalitarian Soviets should have samples of the world’s deadliest disease.
We know for a fact, however, that when Nixon signed the treaty with the Soviets in the early 1970s that was to have halted all offensive bioweapons research and deployment, the Russians went right home and created the largest bioweapons program known to mankind.
According to Ken Alibek (his Americanized name), himself a defector and the No. 2 man at “Vector,” the Soviet Union had vats filled with over 20 tons of India-11 smallpox prepared for delivery in warheads. Our intelligence services had witnessed testing of ICBM reentry vehicles with nose-cone cooling, something only needed for bioagents. And we know that at the fall of the Soviet empire the bioweaponeers disappeared, along with their agents – presumably to the highest bidder.
So here is the scenario in a nutshell. Smallpox virus survives in freezers all over the world – not just in friendly hands. The virus that was manufactured by the Soviets was about 60 percent lethal, and the amount to start a world wide contagion may be stored in a single chicken egg.
Whereas before, disease containment was possible because 1) much of the developed world was vaccinated, 2) there were teams trained to handle outbreaks standing by for ready deployment worldwide, 3) vaccine was stashed in accessible depots all over the world, 4) populations were less mobile and 5) people knew not to go to hospitals during smallpox outbreaks and allowed a system of quarantine. Today, we have none of these things, and additionally, since the 1970s, we have the scientific wherewithal to genetically modify (weaponize) the virus.
I served in the military and have had a number of smallpox vaccinations. Unfortunately, these probably only last 15 years.
As a trauma surgeon and emergency responder, I tried to be voluntarily vaccinated, but was turned down. At that time, Janet Napolitano was governor of Arizona, and she was worried that voluntary vaccination of hospital personnel might result in workman’s compensation claims. How do you spell “shortsighted”?
The only people in my county now and then that have been vaccinated are the public health nurses. None of the emergency-room personnel are vaccinated. Does this make any sense, really? When is the last time that a seriously ill person walked into the county health office? For all the talk of contingency planning, this does not even qualify as a serious joke, let alone serious strategic thinking.
In the words of Rod Sterling, “picture this” (cue “Twilight Zone” theme): A terrorist is infected with smallpox overseas, boards a plane and comes to America, or Tel Aviv, or Paris. He incubates for 11-12 days and begins shedding virus to anyone in his vicinity. When he gets really sick he is seen in some hospital where no one has ever witnessed a case of smallpox, so the diagnosis is delayed. He exposes all of the ER personnel and everyone not in protected air compartments in the hospital (oh, did I mention that very few hospitals have any isolation rooms that are truly hermetically sealed?). So the whole hospital is infected, then the city … then the world. The Army war game “Dark Winter” predicted that within three weeks such a contagion would have spread to over 25 states and would be worldwide.
The government owns all smallpox vaccine in America. None is available for purchase by physicians or patients. I have talked to several naïve public health officials who assure me that, at the state level, the vaccine is stored and will be distributed if an outbreak occurs.
Winston Churchill quipped that having no plan was not the most dangerous thing in the world. The most dangerous thing was believing you had a plan – when in fact you had no plan. A five-year-old could see the holes in this scheme. ER personnel are sick. Who will give the vaccines? The distribution system will break down because of illness and fear of travel. How will it be transported? Remember how well the government distributed swine flu vaccine a few years ago? How did it do getting aid to New Jersey hurricane victims? And with smallpox, time is of the essence. Vaccination within four days of exposure may mitigate death, but doesn’t guarantee avoiding severe illness.
The other day I saw a teenager in my clinic for an orthopaedic problem. He was an exchange student from Argentina. I noticed on his arm the typical scar from smallpox vaccination. My children have not been vaccinated and cannot be vaccinated – yet this child was. Why? Is it because other countries are not as naïve as we? What if Ahmadinejad or Kim Jung Un or some other apocalyptic nutjob decides on the strategy of vaccinating his own people then loosing the virus, knowing that we are defenseless?
We have already experienced bioterrorism. At the end of World War II, a Tularemia outbreak on the eastern front was subsequently found to have been from a Soviet program. Hamas suicide bombers have been infected with Hepatitis B specifically so that when they blew up, their blood did secondary damage (they fortunately didn’t use Ebola, but it’s probably only a matter of time). The Bagwan poisoned a salad bar to sway voting. Anthrax wreaked havoc on D.C. in the wake of 9-11.
It is also possible that West Nile Virus was a terrorist attack. When I first heard this I dismissed it out of hand. But West Nile Virus was never seen in this continent until it appeared in birds in the Brooklyn Zoo (strange place) coincidentally just after a visit to New York City by Castro’s science adviser. And we know from Cuban defectors that Castro had been working actively on a bioweapons program, with emphasis on using migratory birds to carry the biological.
We found incubators in Iraq just after the fall of Saddam Hussein labelled “smallpox.” And, currently intelligence sources claim Syria is doing smallpox experimentation on prisoners.
It is impossible to identify and control bioweapons facilities – they can look like any hospital lab. And we are totally deluding ourselves if we think the bioweapons are not out there.
As Hashemi Rafsanjani once opined, “Bioweapons are the poor man’s atomic bomb.”
Those in America investigating these matters say, it is not a matter of “if,” but of “when.” There are many things we should be doing, but at least we need to make vaccination available to anyone who wants it (it is not only stupid militarily, but immoral to keep this from the American people), and to encourage vaccination in people who would be critical personnel during an outbreak – our medical responders, transportation people and food supply people. In the meantime if anyone finds an overseas source of the vaccine … please let me know.
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper. – T.S. Eliot